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Tips and Tricks on Using the Grade Center

Most of you would like to provide your students with an electronic method to view their grade for your course. Now that grades cannot be posted on office hallways and it is too time consuming to do in class, a lot of you would like to use Blackboard's Grade Center. This page can give you some tips and tricks to help save time and with pedagogical methods.

Even if you do not plan on using the Blackboard Grade Center as the final method for determining Grades, it is a great way to allow students to stay up-to-date with their class standing without using your class time or office hours.

The Grade Center Tutorial will assist you with create items, change order, modify settings, set grade display, totals, weights, downloading and uploading the Grade Center.

Managing Your Grade Center
   Extra Credit
What Do Students See (View Grades)
Entering Grades
Dropping Grades
Complete/Incomplete Surveys
Letter Grades
Text Grade Columns
Grade Columns vs. Calculated Columns


Managing Your Grade Center
 

Depending on if all the items in the Grade Center are graded or if there is extra credit (not counted against their final grade), will direct what you do in the Grade Center to calculate the correct Total .

All Items Graded

Setting up the Grade Center Items
Even if you do not plan on using the Blackboard Grade Center as the final method for determining Grades, it is a great way to allow students to stay up-to-date with their class standing without using your class time or office hours.

For information on how to create items, change order, modify settings, set grade display, totals, weights, downloading and uploading the Grade Center, please go to the Grade Center tutorial.

Categorizing Items

While adding your items make sure that you give it a category (Assignment, Attendance, Essay, Exam, Extra Credit, Final Exam, Group, Project, Homework, Journal, Lab, Midterm Exam, Other, Paper, Presentation, Problem Set, Quiz, and Survey). Categories will allow you to sort (minimize the number of items to view on the sheet) and helps with weighting.

Screen image of gradebook

Extra Credit

Setting up an Extra Credit Item
If you would like to create an Extra Credit item in your Grade Center there are two different ways depending on if you weight the grades or not.

Adding Extra Credit Items (Weighted)

If your Grade Center is Weighted, you can still add Extra Credit. First, you'll need to Add a New Category with the name Extra Credit. Say you want to give your students an extra 15 points of the total course grade for completing some particular Extra Credit tasks, then you may simply create the New Grade Column, set the Category to Extra Credit, make the Possible Points one ("1"), and set the Weighting to 1%. Make sure you modify the whole Weighting point value to equal 100%.

Screen image of an Add Item field

In the Grade Center, give all the students 1 point to avoid complaints that only a total of 99% is possible without the extra credit value.

Screen image of Extra Credit equals 1   Screen image of Extra Credit Gradebook

When the students had completed the Extra Credit items, add the point value to the Grade Center.

Screen Image of Extra Credit added

Adding Extra Credit Items (non Weighted)

To display Extra Credit items, create the New Grade Column, set the Category to Extra Credit, make the Possible Points zero ("0"), and include the item in the Grade Center. Making the Possible Points equal to zero will insure that anyone who does not get points for Extra Credit does not have it count against their grade.This will be the column in which to enter points for extra credit to be added to the Total of all points earned.

Screen image of Extra Credit options

From the Grade Center, click on the Action Link action link button on the existing Total Grade Column to open the contextual menu. Select Modify Column from the menu.

screen image of the contextual menu in the total column

Scroll down to 3, the Select Columns pane, and find Include in Total. Choose "Selected Grade Columns, Calculated Columns and Categories."

Under "Columns to Select," highlight ALL of the columns listed (you may select all by holding down the Shift key and clicking the last column) including the Extra Credit column you created previously. DO NOT include any Calculated Columns (Weighted Total, Average, etc).

screen image of the select columns pane

Click the triangle-in-a-circle arrow between "Columns to Select" and "Selected Columns" to move the highlighted columns over to selected columns. This will make certain that ALL columns are used in the Total calculation. Under that section, choose "No" for "Calculate as a Running Total." Having "Yes" selected will ignore any columns with zero "Points Possible" including Extra Credit, so make sure that it is not enabled.

screen image of the selected columns pane

Scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click on the Submit button. The Total column will now reflect the total of all columns, including the Extra Credit.

What Do Students See

Depending on how you set up your Grade Center (Extra Credit, Weighting, Null Values, etc.) will vary what is displayed in their My Grades area. Here is a screen image of one example.

screen image of student view My Grade

A Time Saver for Entering Grades

After Adding a Grade Column in the Grade Center you can assign grades quick and easy by...

From the Control Panel:

  1. Click on the Grade Center link under the Assessment section.
  2. Click the Grade Cell on the Grade Center spreadsheet.
  3. Type the point value into the grade cell.
    screen image of the grade center spreadsheet
  4. Press the Enter key to save the point value and move to the grade cell below.
    screen image of the grade center spreadsheet with a highlighted grade cell

More Information

Q: How can I add a letter grade to the Grade Center?
A: You may add a new Grading Schema which allows you to set letter grades.

Dropping the Lowest Grade from a Set of Quizzes

The following procedure works for any series/set of graded items in the Grade Center, not just quizzes. You must create a category dedicated to the set of items from which the lowest score will dropped, and assign that category (i.e., Weekly Quizzes) to the set of items (i.e., Grade Columns named Quiz 1- Quiz 10).

In this example, we want to drop the lowest of 10 quiz scores, highlighted in red.
screen image of a set of grades in the grade center

1. Create a Category:

From the Control Panel:

  1. Click on the Grade Center link in the Assessment section.
  2. Roll the cursor over the Manage button in the Action Bar to open the contextual menu.
  3. Select Categories.
    screen image of the manage contextual menu in the grade center
  4. Click on Add Category in the Action Bar.
    add category button
  5. Type a Name for the category (ex: Weekly Quizzes).
  6. Click on Submit.
  7. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click OK.

2. Assign the New Category to a Series of Grade Columns:

From the Grade Center:

  1. To assign the new Category (ex: Weekly Quizzes) to a New Grade Column choose it from the Category drop-down menu on the Add Grade Column page.
    screen image of the add grade column page
  2. To assign the new Category (ex: Weekly Quizzes) to a Preexisting Grade Column click on the Action Link action link button next to the column name.
  3. Click on the Modify Column link.
    screen image of the contextual menu of a grade column
  4. Choose the Category from the Category drop-down menu on the Modify Grade Column page.
    screen image of the add grade column page
  5. Scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click on the Submit button.
  6. Repeat steps 2-5 for each Grade Column to be inlcuded in the Series of Grade Columns from which the lowest score will be dropped. In this example, 10 quiz Grade Columns must be modified to be assigned to the "Weekly Quizzes" category. The image below shows the last column of 10 quizzes being modified.
    screen image of ten quiz grade columns in grade center

3. Create the Weighted Column that will Display the Adjusted Score (Lowest Grade Dropped):

From the Grade Center:

  1. Roll the cursor over the Add Calculated Column button in the Action Bar to open the contextual menu.
  2. Click on the Weighted link.
    screen image of the add calculated column contextual menu in the grade center
  3. Enter a Column Name and other information into the appropriate fields.
  4. In the Select Columns pane, select the category you created under the Categories to Select box (ex: Weekly Quizzes).
    screen image of the select categories window in grade center
  5. After selecting and highlighting a category, click on the arrow  arrow button  to include it in the weighted grade. The category now moves into the Selcted Columns window and displays further options.
    screen image of the selected columns window
  6. Set the Percentage of the total for each column or category. Since we only want these 10 quizzes included in the calulation of the score for this column, we will make the percentage of the "Weekly Quizzes" category 100%.
  7. Select how to weigh columns within the Category, Equally or Proportionally. Choosing Equally applies equal value to all Columns within a Category. Choosing Proportionally applies the appropriate value to a Grade Item based on its points compared to other columns in the Category. For most purposes and this exmaple, you'll want to use Equally.
  8. Enter a 1 in the Drop Lowest Grades text field to drop the lowest grade in the category.
    screen image of the selected columns window
  9. Scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click on the Submit button.
  10. You are returned to the Grade Center, where you can view the adjusted quiz score in the newly created weighted column, which in this example is named "Quizzes 1-10." We've included a seperate column next to it named "Quizzes 1-10 Raw" to demonstrate the quiz score when the lowest quiz grade is not dropped.
    screen image of adjusted grades in the grade center

Complete/Incomplete Surveys

Surveys provide Instructors with an Assessment tool that is useful for polling purposes, evaluations, and random checks of knowledge. However, survey questions can neither be assigned points nor can a survey itself be automatically assigned points for completion. A Survey's default primary display (the "grade" shown in a grade cell) is Complete/Incomplete. An instructor cannot assign points for completion through this default grade center display setting; selecting and entering a numerical value in the spreadsheet or overriding the grade in grade details and entering a numerical value will result in no points for the student. Instead, a grade center column generated automatically for a survey must be modified in the grade center to display both/either a point value and/or complete/incomplete, as well as to assign points possible to the survey. A grade column is generated automatically in grade center by selecting "Include this test in Grade Center score calculations" on the "Modify Survey Options" page. The following list summarizes these ideas:

  1. The primary display for a Survey is Complete/Incomplete, a green checkmark checkmark denotes completion, while a null value (-) denotes incompletion:
    screen image of an complete/incomplete survey in grade center
  2. If the grade column has not been modified in any way by the instructor, Grade Center will display a green checkmark checkmark if an instructor attempts to enter in a numerical value for a complete/incomplete survey either through the spreadsheet or by overriding the grade on the "Grade Details" page (Grade Center interprets the number as denoting completion, and since this is it's primary display, it ignores the numerical value completely and inserts a checkmark only).

    Entering a value in a grade column with complete/incomplete as it's primary display:
    screen image of the grade center spreadsheet
    Results in:
    screen image of the grade center spreadsheet

Should an instructor wish to view both Complete/Incomplete as well as enter points for completion of the survey, Modifying both the Survey Options as well as Modifying the Grade Column is necassary.

Include the Survey in Grade Center Score Calculations
This is a preliminary step, but the instructor should verify that Blackboard has inserted an automatically generated grade column in Grade Center for the survey. To verify and/or make sure of this follow these instructions:

From the Control Panel:

  1. Click on the Content Area link where the survey is located (Syllabus, Course Materials, Assignments, External Links).
  2. Click on the Modify button to the right of the Survey link.
  3. Click on the Modify the survey options link.
  4. Scroll down to Self-Assessment Options and put a checkmark next to Include this test in Grade Center score calculations.
    screen image of the self-assessment options for a survey
  5. Scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click on the Submit button.

Modifying the Survey Grade Column to Display a Point Value and Complete/Incomplete in Grade Center
Now that the survey has been completed by the students in the course and a grade column is present in Grade Center, we can modify the grade column to assign points for completion. We want to keep the complete/incomplete display as well as add a score (point value) display in the Grade Center.

Note: Grade Center allows the instructor to choose any two different grade displays in Grade Center (Complete/Incomplete, Score, Percentage, Text or Letter), however, only the Primary Display wil be visible to students in My Grades. Since we want to assign points for completion of the survey, we will choose Score for the Primary Display (so students can see the points they've earned for completion of the survey rather than a checkmark) and Complete/Incomplete as the Secondary Display (which is only viewable in the Grade Center and thus only to the instructor).

From the Control Panel:

  1. Click on the Grade Center link in the Assessment section.
  2. Verify that the survey has been completed; a green checkmark checkmark denotes completion, while a null value (-) denotes incompletion. In this case, both students hae completed the survey.
    screen image of the grade center spreadsheet
  3. Click on the Action Link action link button next to the column name.
  4. Choose the Modify Column link.
    screen image of the contextual menu for the survey grade column
  5. Grade Center's default settings for an automatically generated Survey grade column are as shown below. As you can see, there are no Points Possible (the reason you can't just enter a numerical value for the survey; it would only count as extra points not included in the Grade Center total), the Primary Display is Complete/Incomplete (also what students see) and there is no Secondary Display (only displayed in the Grade Center).
    screen image of the default settings for a survey in grade center
  6. Click on the drop-down menu next to Primary Display to display the display options for the Survey in Grade Center and in My Grades. We want students to see the points they've earned for completion of the survey, not Complete/Incomplete, so we select Score.
    screen image of display options for the survey
  7. Click on the drop-down menu next to Secondary Display to display the display options for the Survey in Grade Center only.
    screen image of the secondary display options for a survey
  8. Click in the text box next to Points Possible and type the Points Possible for completion of the Survey. In this case, the number of Points Possible is 10.
    screen image of the poins possible text box for the survey
  9. The modifications are complete and your Survey Settings should look like this (of course, the Points Possible may be different depending on what you have chosen to make the Survey worth):
    screen image of the modified survey settings
  10. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the Submit button.
  11. You are returned to the Grade Center spreadsheet. The grade column for the Survey should appear like this:
    screen image of the newly modified survey grade column
  12. Click in the grade cell and Type the number of points earned for completion of the Survey. Since the number of Points Possible for this Survey is 10, both students earn 10 points.
    screen image of entering points for a completion of the survey
  13. Having entered the points earned for the top student, press the Enter key. The Score is saved and you can repeat this process for the grade cell below.
    screen image of the saved score in the spreadsheet

Letter Grades

If you choose to display grades in the Grade Center as Letter Grades, you'll need to verify that the percentage intervals assigned to each Letter Grade, named "Grading Schema" in the Grade Center, are the same values Cal poly uses for assigning Letter Grades. Blackboard has it's own default Letter Grade percentage intervals for the "Letter" display option in Grade Center, but there should also be a second Letter Grading Schema available to you that Cal Poly has placed in the Grade Center. If you do have more than one "Letter" display option avaiable to you (you'll see TWO "Letter" display options), you'll need to verify that you are using Cal Poly's version of "Letter." The main difference in the two Grading Schemas (Cal Poly's vs. Blackboard's) is that Blackboard assigns A+, which Cal Poly does not use, to grades of 95% - 100%. Cal Poly's highest Letter Grade is A, whose percentage interval range is 93% - 100%.

Note: DO NOT use Blackboard's version of "Letter" Grades. Cal Poly's version has already been added to the Grading Schema in Grade Center, the following tutorial explains how to distinguish between the two and how to apply Cal Poly's "Letter" Grade values to your Grade Center items.

Verifying that Two or More "Letter" Grading Schemas Exist:

From the Control Panel:

  1. Click on the Grade Center link in the Assessment section.
  2. Click on the Action Link action link button next to the column name of the column whose Primary Display in Grade Center you want to be "Letter."
  3. Choose the Modify Column link.
    screen image of the contextual menu for the survey grade column
  4. Click on the drop-down menu next to Primary Display to display the display options for the Grade Column in Grade Center. As you can see, there are two "Letter" display options.
    screen image of the display options for a grade center item
  5. Since we can't tell which option corresponds to Cal Poly's grade values, we'll cancel modifying the options of the Grade Column for now. Scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click on Cancel.
    Note: In the next step, we'll identify which "Letter" option is correct and rename the incorrect version.

Renaming Blackboard's "Letter" Grading Schema
To distinguish between Blackboard's version of "Letter" Grades and Cal Poly's version of "Letter" Grades, we're going to rename Blackboard's version "Old Letter." You could, of course, change the name to anything you like, just keep Cal Poly's version of "Letter" Grades named "Letter" in the Grading Schema.

Now, Cal Poly's version of "Letter" Grades is already present in the Grade Center as a Grading Schema, we're just going to name Blackboard's version "Old Letter" to distinguish between the two:

From the Control Panel:

  1. Click on the Grade Center link in the Assessment section.
  2. Roll the cursor over the Manage button in the Action Bar to open the contextual menu.
  3. Click on the Grading Schemas link.
    screem image of the manage contextual menu
  4. We are brought to the Grading Schemas page, where we see two "Letter" Grading Schemas. To verify which "Letter" is the correct one to use (Cal Poly's), we'll need to look at the percentage intervals assigned to each "Letter." We know that Cal Poly's will not have an A+, and the "Letter" Grade A will have percentage intervals from 93% - 100%. Blackboard's "Letter" Grading Schema will have an A+ with range 95% - 100%. We will rename the latter (Blackboard's) "Old Letter."
  5. Click on the Modify button next to each "Letter" Grading Schema.
    screen image of the grading schemas page
  6. Verify which "Letter" Grading Schema is Cal Poly's. After verifying this, change the name for Blackboard's Schema to "Old Letter" and keep the name "Letter" for Cal Poly's.

    Cal Poly's (Keep the name "Letter")
    screen image of the percentage values for letter grades in cal poly's grading schema

    Blackboard's (Change the name to "Old Letter")
    screen image of blackboard's grade values for Letter grades
  7. After verifying/changing names on the page, scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click on the Submit button.
  8. You are returned to the Grading Schemas page, a "Success" banner should appear at the top of the screen. Verify that Blackboard's "Letter" Grading Schema is now named "Old Letter."
    screen image of the grading schemas page with success banner at top of page
  9. Scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click on the OK button.

Using the Cal Poly "Letter" Grading Schema as the Primary Display for a Grade Center Item

From the Control Panel:

  1. Click on the Grade Center link in the Assessment section.
  2. Click on the Action Link action link button next to the column name of the column whose Primary Display in Grade Center you want to be "Letter."
  3. Choose the Modify Column link.
    screen image of the contextual menu for the survey grade column
  4. Click on the drop-down menu next to Primary Display to display the display options for the Grade Column in Grade Center. There should now be a "Letter" display option and an "Old Letter" option, select "Letter".
    screen image of the modify column page
  5. Scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click on the Submit button.

Text Grade Columns

Selecting "Text" as the Primary Display for a Grade Column allows you to enter a string of text no more than 40 characters log into the Grade Center spreadsheet. Although you can enter numerical values into a "Text" Column through the Grade Center Spreadsheet ONLY and the Total Column will be correct, downloading the Grade Center to Excel and entering numerical values into a "Text" Column will result in 0 points being added to the Total Column for whatever "Text" Column you entered numerical values into; the overall total will be incorrect.

Note: It is strongly recommended that if you wish to enter numerical values (and/or use those values to calculate a Total, Weighted Total or any other Calculated Column) for a Grade Column that you set that column's Primary Display as "Score." If you wish to make a Grade Column's Primary Display "Text," avoid entering numerical values. The following screen shots sumarize these issues:

Entering numerical values into a "Text" column through the Grade Center Spreadsheet (NOT recommended) will result in a correctly calculated Total Column (Both Grade Columns are set to display "Text"):
Note: You can tell they are "Text" Columns because there are no decimal points after the numbers, a "Score" Column automatically inserts two decimal points when a numerical value is entered.
screen image of the grade center spreadsheet

Entering numerical values into the same "Text" Column in the Downloaded Excel file (.xls)...
screen image of an excel spreadsheet
...and uploading them back into the Grade Center will result in a 0.00 for the Total Column (Whether the Total Column displays ""Percentage" or "Score").
screen image of the grade center spreadsheet with a total column equalling 0

Should you need to convert a "Text" Column into a "Score" Column and have already entered numerical values into the spreadsheet (like the example above), you'll need to change the Primary Display for the column from "Text" to "Score."

Modifying a Grade Column's Primary Display from "Text" to "Score"

From the Control Panel:

  1. Click on the Grade Center link in the Assessment section.
  2. Click on the Action Link action link button next to the column name of the column whose Primary Display in Grade Center you want to be "Letter."
  3. Choose the Modify Column link.
    screen image of the contextual menu for the midterm 2 column
  4. Click on the drop-down menu next to Primary Display to display the display options for the Grade Column in Grade Center. Right now it is set for "Text."
  5. Select "Score" from the Primary Display drop-down menu.
    screen image of the modify column page
  6. Scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click on the Submit button.
  7. A small window will pop-up alerting you of the consequences of this change; when converting text columns, all numeric values will be treated as a score out of the defined points possible.
  8. Click on the OK button.
    screen image of the blackboard pop-up alert
  9. You are returned to the Grade Center Spreadsheet. Having repeated this process for both columns, the Total Column now displays the correct Total Percentage.
    screen image of the grade center spreadsheet with a correct total column

Grade Columns vs. Calculated Columns

  1. Grade Columns - You can manually create grade columns in Grade Center for items that don’t have columns automatically generated, like surveys and tests created in Blackboard. When you would like to enter grades for an assignment not administered through blackboard (e.g. an in-class essay or in-class midterm) use the Add Grade Column button in Grade Center. You will use "Add Grade Column" in Grade Center to create a Grade Column in which to enter individual assignment grades for students. Calculated columns use these Grade Columns to calculate averages, min/max, totals, and weighted totals. Instructors will use Grade Columns for the majority of their Grade Column needs, Calculated Columns are used much less often.

  2. Calculated Grade Columns - In the Grade Center, an Instructor can calculate grades by combining multiple columns to attain performance results, such as class averages, final grades that are based on a weighted scale, or total points, and so on. These are called Calculated Columns. The possible Calculated Columns include the following: Weighted Grade, Average, Total, and Minimum/Maximum. In other words, you'll need to have Grade Columns already established with grades entered into them in order for a Calculated Column to calculate averages/weighting/min/max.
    Note: Do not use "Add Calculated Column" to enter grades for individual assignment for students, you will not be able to enter grades into any of the grade cells for that column. Values are automatically generated in the grade cells of a Calculated Column based on the Grade Columns the Calculated Column has been selected to calculate Weighted Grades, Averages, Totals, or Minimum/Maximums for.